Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Red Planet Blues"

Robert J. Sawyer is one of only eight writers in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the world's top Science Fiction awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Red Planet Blues, and reported the following:
Page 69 in its entirety:
I wondered if a transfer’s time sense ever slows down, or if it is always perfectly quartz-crystal timed. Certainly, time seemed to attenuate for me then. I swear I could actually see the bullet as it followed its trajectory from my gun, covering the three meters between the barrel and—

And not, of course, Cassandra’s torso.

Nor her head.

She was right; I probably couldn’t harm her that way.

No, instead, I’d aimed past her, at the table on which Pickover was lying on his back. Specifically, I’d aimed at the place where the thick nylon band that crossed over his torso, pinning his arms, was anchored on the right-hand side—the point where it made a taut diagonal line between where it was attached to the side of the table and the top of Pickover’s arm.

The bullet sliced through the band, cutting it in two. The long portion, freed of tension, flew up and over his torso like a snake that had just had 40,000 volts pumped through it.

Cassandra’s eyes went wide in astonishment that I’d missed her, and her head swung around. The report of the bullet was still ringing in my ears, but I swear I could also hear the zzzzinnnng! of the restraining band snapping free. To be hypersensitive to pain, I figured you’d have to have decent reaction times, and I hoped that Pickover had been smart enough to note in advance my slight deviation of aim before I fired.

And, indeed, no sooner were his arms free than he sat bolt upright—his legs were still restrained—and grabbed one of Cassandra’s arms, pulling her toward him. I leapt in the meager Martian gravity. Most of Cassandra’s body was made of lightweight composites and synthetic materials, but I was still good old flesh and blood: I outmassed her by at least thirty kilos. My impact propelled her backward, and she slammed against the table’s side. Pickover shot out his other arm, grabbing Cassandra’s second arm, pinning her backside against the edge of the table. I struggled to regain a sure footing, then brought my gun up to her right temple.
My goodness, this page does a perfect job of capturing the flavor of Red Planet Blues. It’s a hardboiled noir detective novel ... that happens to be set on Mars. Of course, I’m known as a science-fiction writer, and there’s no doubt that Red Planet Blues is indeed a science-fiction novel: there are spaceships, robots, prissy computers, and fossils of ancient Martian life.

Much of my previous science fiction has crossed over into mystery, too. My first novel, 1990’s Golden Fleece, was a murder mystery set aboard a starship. And Ace recently reissued my Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment, which is a high-tech whodunit, and my Seiun Award-winning Illegal Alien, which is a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. But Red Planet Blues is the first novel in which I’ve made a professional detective the main character.

And having a science-fictional detective does make sense. It’s become increasingly hard to tell traditional detective stories set in the present day. Everyone knows about CSI-style forensics: it’s almost impossible for a killer not to leave behind fingerprints or DNA. And our public and private spaces are increasingly covered by surveillance cameras; there’s almost no room left—on Earth anyway—for the traditional whodunit.

But Red Planet Blues is set on a lawless frontier Mars—where the security cameras have been smashed—and it involves a technology that lets people transfer their consciousnesses into gorgeous android bodies, which don’t have fingerprints and don’t shed DNA. But who is actually inside any given body is anyone’s guess, letting me tell a good-old fashioned mystery ... out on the final frontier.
Learn more about the book and author at Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue